January 2005

 

Thank You, Mr. President

Just before the November election, Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's The Daily Show was asked which candidate he favored. "George Bush," he answered, adding that Mr. Bush offers the best material for comedy writers.

Mr. Stewart has a living to earn, after all. Here at BENT, we need material too. And so, like Jon Stewart, we rejoice in the President's reelection. No, George W. is not himself qualified as a BENT contributor. But he is, hands down, the "brains" behind the escalating creation of a whole new generation of BENT writers. Nowhere can you earn more qualifications to write for BENT, in the blink of an eye, than in the President's Operation Disability Storm.

Dubious? Let's look at a few facts that might have escaped your attention. You can be forgiven for not getting the Big Picture because there are, after all, thousands of little pictures that our free society does not permit you to see, like the hundreds upon hundreds of flag-draped coffins shipped home by the Pentagon; like the arms and legs of soldiers blown clean off, their brains extruded in a bloody mess on Iraqi streets; or the (barely) patched-up bodies lying in hospital beds stateside.

You can be forgiven for thinking, as Mark Morford wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, that " war is manly and heroic and cool, as exemplified by that now-famous shot of that macho 'Dogface' Marlboro-smokin' Marine whose dirt-encrusted mug was eagerly picked up by newspapers and media Web sites across the nation (including this one), and became an instant icon for the war and the military was positively giddy about using him as an ideal recruitment tool, a model of how to make soldiers look all studly and rugged and badass as opposed to the often poorly educated, disposable hunks of politically abused postpubescent meat BushCo considers them to be."

Well, yes. There's that, for starters.

And according to neurosurgeon Gene Bolles, interviewed by Lakshmi Chaudry for Alternet about his two years in Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the U.S. military hospital in Germany that receives all injured soldiers evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan: "And this is what makes the soldiers do what they do so gallantly—this feeling for each other. So when they get injured, they first feel guilty that they're not still back with their buddies. But then as time goes on, they realize the price they paid for the war and then there is anger. And then there is frustration, then sadness, then depression. They realize they may never walk again or are so disfigured that the rest of their life is going to be very difficult."

So there's the brotherly devotion and there's the damage. There's the lifelong disfigurement.

There's that.

But something still fails to add up here. It's simple. It's the figures. If we want to appreciate the true genius of George W. Bush as a BENT recruiter, we need to look at something pure and clean and simple: numbers. Forget today's count of 1,329 fatalities. Dead men can't write. It's the more than 5,300 seriously wounded Americans that I'm so enthusiastic about.

But let's remember that the Army's definition of "seriously wounded" can be misleading, too. "Through July," according to the New York Times, "nearly 31,000 veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom had applied for disability benefits for injuries or psychological ailments, according to the Department Veterans Affairs." With that total in mind my editorial ambitions make me positively giddy with enthusiasm.

It gets even better, though. "An Army study," according to the same Times article, " shows that about one in six soldiers in Iraq report symptoms of major depression, serious anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, a proportion that some experts believe could eventually climb to one in three, the rate ultimately found in Vietnam veterans. Because about one million American troops have served so far in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Pentagon figures, some experts predict that the number eventually requiring mental health treatment could exceed 100,000."

Since statistics can be misleading, let us, for the moment, take a conservative approach. Let's just fold those 5,300 seriously physically wounded to date into the 100,000 requiring mental health treatment (the men even now enduring broken marriages and debilitating nightmares, those unable to hold down a job in the future, those who will take their own lives or the lives of others when the war is over) and let us say that the total number disabled by this particular chapter in the saga of the American Neocon Adventure will not exceed 100,000. That's 100,000 troops disabled by the literal scars of quadriplegia, amputated limbs and disfiguring injuries as well as those disabled by the invisible scars of post-traumatic stress.

Are you still with me? I'm struggling to be fair here as I recognize once again that statistics can be misleading, so in trying to get a handle on our potential new BENT writing pool, in trying to estimate how many of those disabled veterans are gay (sorry, but you straight disposable hunks of politically abused postpubescent meat will need to find other writing opportunities) let's use the probably conservative figure of 5% of the U.S. population arrived at by a recent study.

Five percent of 100,000 amounts to 5,000. Even after adjusting for the relatively small number of women enlistees, you've got to admit that that's still an impressive number. Just think of it! Almost 5,000 new writers capable of telling eager readers what it's like to be disabled and gay from a perspective new to most of us.

We queers, long accused of recruiting, stand in awe. George W. Bush, we cannot hold a candle to your recruiting efforts in this specialized arena. This could be your finest hour, your greatest legacy. Gladiators in ancient Rome hailed Caesar with, "We who are about to die salute you." George, We who are about to tell the truth salute you.

© 2005 BENT
Photo by Mark McBeth, IDEA | MONGER

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Bob Guter has been a bilateral amputee since the age of six as the result of congenital anomalies..

With John R. Killacky he edited "Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and their Stories" (Harrington Park Press), winner of a 2004 Lambda Literary Award.

His short story, "The Enemy at Bay," is included in Fresh Men: New Voices in Gay Fiction, published in November 2004 by Carroll & Graf. He lives in San Francisco, where he publishes and edits BENT.